A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, November 24, 2019, Reign of Christ Sunday, “Becoming Beloved” series.
Text: Luke 6:27a, 31, 46-49
“But I say to you that listen…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Throughout this Becoming Beloved series we have heard those two lines from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Listen…Do… And while we have not focused on these words specifically, they have been a common thread throughout all the teachings of Jesus that we’ve explored. Today, the final section of teaching in Jesus’ sermon makes the connection between listening and doing explicit. Jesus calls out those who call him “Lord” but don’t do what he teaches. This seems an appropriate text for this day traditionally celebrated as “Reign of Christ” Sunday and on a day when many among us will affirm or reaffirm the promise to “serve [Jesus Christ] as Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, orientations, and races.” What does it mean to call Jesus your “Lord?” It’s a “walk your talk” message we receive today in the Gospel. And walking our talk, of course, is a matter of integrity. Are you taking the teachings of Jesus to heart, into your inward center, and allowing them to shape and inspire your outward actions? Do your words—what you say you value and desire—match what you actually do with your self and your stuff?
I can’t help but think of Stephen Colbert’s statement that “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.” As I recall, these words were spoken in the context of those who assert that the United States is “a Christian nation.” Colbert’s words highlight one of many disconnects between our stated values and our actions as a nation—we could name what’s been happening at the border, environmental policy, voter suppression, children going hungry in our backyards, and on and on. Colbert’s words also shine a light on people who call themselves Christian but ignore the teachings of Jesus, acting in ways that directly contradict them.
Whether it is a nation, a church, or an individual, actions speak louder than words.
The metaphor Jesus uses to get the point across is a foundation for a house. Those who listen and act upon Jesus’ words are like one who is willing to do what? Notice that the first thing Jesus says it that the one who acts on what they hear is willing to dig deeply. This is no quick or shallow activity requiring no effort or time. In order to get to the solid place, there’s some digging required, some excavation, a willingness to keep at it and to go deep. This is much of what we have been thinking about together over these past weeks. It is the work of paying attention to how our circumstances affect our hearts. It is the excavation and extraction of bitterness and hatred and prejudice and blinding fear from our inward center, trusting God to do within us what we can’t do ourselves. It is a willingness to get real and own our stuff—as citizens, as faith community, as persons. And all this is not the stuff of shallow study or proof texting scripture or checking a “went-to-church” box. It is the work of allowing the Word of God revealed in Jesus to cut through all our rationalizations and defenses and to change our lives. In the process, the bedrock is discovered, offering a firm foundation. A firm foundation is a foundation based on something real and true, not illusions or empty promises or lies. And, Lord knows, there are plenty of temptations, voices urging us to throw up a house on a shiny patch of sand with a nice water view and to buy the sales pitch that the spot hasn’t been stolen from others and the waters here never rise and the grace of this plot is cheap and will satisfy all you need to thrive without your ever having to do any maintenance or further investment of yourself.
Jesus honors us enough to believe that we’ll see through that garbage. And says in essence, “Listen deeply and let my words and my love and my mercy and my grace give you the courage and strength to be real, to face the truth, and to act in ways that build something that lasts, to build a life on the solid rock of justice and compassion and gentleness and stewardship of the earth and love of God and of neighbor.”
This all matters because when flood waters come—when we’re paddling as fast as we can but can’t keep up, when powerful forces are overwhelming us, when the stuff of life makes us feel like we’re drowning—the house built on that solid foundation will stand; when the waters ebb, we will have come through it whole. Blowing off the words of Jesus, being unwilling to do what it takes to “build our house well,” leaves us vulnerable and weak when trouble comes near.
It’s not that living by the teachings of Jesus to be loving, non-retaliatory, merciful, generous, forgiving, humble, self-aware, and persons of integrity will keep us from getting hurt, disappointed, or damaged. It’s that no matter what happens, our foundation will hold us, our sense of meaning and purpose will help us keep perspective, our “inward center,” full of the love which has been lavished upon us by God, will be solid, keeping us from completely falling apart. Think of anyone you’ve seen persevere with grace and love in the face of persecution. Think not only of the fact that they are able to stand fast with the waters breaking against them, but also of the way that their witness inspires others.
I also think of the Gospel-inspired teaching of MLK who famously taught that “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate… Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Our hateful actions multiply hate… What we do is like fuel. Where we put our energy is like gasoline on whatever fire we throw it on. We can stoke the light and warmth of love and justice and peace or we can stoke the destructive fires of hatred, fear, and greed. Our actions, what we do with our time and energy, affects not only our own selves and household, but also the communities in which we live. Our actions affect the integrity of the household of God. We can burn the house down or light and fuel a warming fire at its center.
Our goal here at Foundry is to create and nurture beloved community—a community that is fully inclusive, anti-racist, anti-colonial, humble, joyful, committed, faithful, generous, peacemaking, just, sacrificial—a community of integrity where love is not just a word we speak but the beating heart of all our actions. We know that in community, this is the work of lifetimes, of generations. Across years, every generation has to make sure the foundation remains sound, needs to check for fissures or erosion, needs to make sure the foundation is solid and sure enough to hold the new structures and challenges and revelations of the age. That is our work in these days. Each one of us has a role to play. We do our part by doing our own work on ourselves and having integrity around our own promises to participate fully in this shared life with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We do our part by showing up when we are called to stand in solidarity and advocacy with our neighbors. We do our part by taking seriously our mission to love God and love each other. Simply showing up here in community is an important piece of all of these things.
We may tend to think of coming to church or being in worship as something we do for ourselves—and, my hope is that what happens in this place any day of the week is nourishing for your life and growth. But I was recently reminded that our active participation in faith community isn’t ultimately something we do for ourselves. Writer Kathleen Norris remembers a pastor once saying that we “go to church for other people. Because someone may need you there.” Someone may be encouraged just to see your face or to share conversation over coffee or to connect about things you’re trying to manage at work or at home or a health issue, or the complicated realities of the dating scene. Someone may need you to see them, to receive them, to remember their name or to offer a handshake or a hug even if you don’t know their name. Our act of getting ourselves here to Foundry—or whatever faith community we call home—is a concrete act of love for God and for each other. Someone may need you here. If our collective commitment is to show up for each other, it means that others will show up for you. And if all of us come willing own our own stuff, do our work, and offer ourselves in love to God and each other, letting love and justice flow into all our actions in the world then we might be able, with integrity, to call Jesus “Lord,” we might, with integrity, claim we’re actively becoming beloved community. And that kind of community is one that withstands all the storms that rage across the years. That kind of community is one that offers hope and nourishes lives in every season. That kind of community changes the world. By God’s grace may it be so.